There has been a positive development in a convoluted and sad story about a woman arrested in OB for using her boyfriend sheriff’s credit card. Her arrest had been used against her in a child custody dispute with him. With all charges dropped, Michelle Cameron had sued the County and the Sheriffs for the use of excessive force and conspiracy.
Six to ten sheriff deputies had barged into Cameron’s OB apartment with guns drawn back in 2008, as the boyfriend sheriff – David Buether – had filed a complaint that “unknown suspect” had stolen his credit card – even though he knew she had made the purchases.
Based on his complaint, a warrant was issued and she was taken into custody. But with all charges dropped, Cameron had filed a suit. A federal judge in San Diego had thrown it out, but just recently her appeal of that decision was won, and her suit can now proceed forward.
The details are not pretty, but for anyone who has been involved in child custody disputes, they can tell you that an arrest of one of the warring parties can certainly help the other side. Deputy Buether was certainly aware of this. And he used his authority as a sheriff – no, he apparently abused his authority, and possibly conspired with other deputies in getting Cameron arrested and defamed.
And it looks like Buether conspired with Sheriffs detective Michelle Craig, who Cameron is also suing. After you read the following, what do you think?
Here is what we know in info drawn from two sources:
Michelle Cameron was a yoga instructor when in 2004 she began dating one of her students, Deputy Buether. They hit it off and moved in together that year – into a San Marcos home he owned. They never got married, but they had two children together. And as people who have kids together, they co-mingled their personal finances, and did other things like both co-signed a home-equity loan and a car loan.
Cameron also used a credit card of Buether’s. Her lawyer later stated that before his complaint, she had used it 123 times without any problems from him.
In 2008, however, things fell apart, when Cameron learned that Buether was sleeping around. During this period, there was a couple of alleged domestic violence incidents. In October of that year, Buether got a restraining order against Cameron and had her forcibly removed from the San Marcos home with claims that she had been abusive and violent.
Cameron went to stay with a friend. While there, she used the credit card and bought $9,000 worth of home furnishings she was going to use to set up a new home for her and the kids. She had made the purchases from Overstock.com.
Over the next several weeks, Cameron and Buether tried to reconcile. He came over to her Ocean Beach home and saw the furnishings she had bought. Yet he didn’t say or do anything – at that point. Cameron later said that because they had co-mingled their funds, she thought she was an authorized user on the card.
But the reconciliation didn’t jive. And in November of 2008, Buether filed a criminal complaint with – guess who? – the Sheriff’s department, claiming that an “unknown suspect” had used his credit card illegally to buy the stuff from Overstock.com.
Now, the Sheriff’s detective assigned to the case was Detective Michelle Craig (yes, there are 2 Michelles in this story!) She and Buether had attended the Sheriff’s Academy together, and the two had both worked together on his patrol shift for four years. And over the course of the suit, Buether and Craig said their relationship was only work-related, but Cameron claimed they’re friends.
In December, Det. Craig got a search warrant for Cameron’s OB home to look for the items bought with his card, based on Buether’s complaint. However, in obtaining the warrant, Craig did not disclose that the couple had commingled their finances for years, nor that there was an ongoing custody dispute between them.
So, early in the morning on December 18, 2008, – a week before Christmas – a gaggle of deputies met up in San Marcos and drove to Ocean Beach arriving here just after 7 a.m. They put on their SWAT outfits and went to Cameron’s home and served the warrant. They entered with guns drawn, wearing bulletproof vests and helmets, and roughly handcuffed Cameron.
Cameron stated in her suit that Det. Craig had scheduled the raid on a day she knew, from Buether, that the two children would be with Cameron. She had checked with Buether if he would be available to pick up the children that day.
The Appeal Court’s ruling confirmed this:
“At 7:00 a.m. On December 18, 2008 – at a time Craig knew Cameron would have custody of her two young children – Craig and six to ten other San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputies executed the search warrant at Cameron’s residence.”
“The deputies were armed and had their weapons drawn. They were dressed entirely in black, with bulletproof vests and helmets.”
Cameron was arrested for identity theft, grand and petty theft, and fraudulent use of an access card. Right after the arrest, Craig contacted Buether, who came to OB to get the children. He then called the custody mediator for the custody dispute case to inform them of the arrest.
After being in jail for five days – and of course, away from her kids – Cameron was released. The DA’s office decided it would not prosecute and all charges against her were dismissed. They probably didn’t dare placing this case in front of a jury for fearing of inciting a lynch mob against the prosecution.
In her suit against the County and Craig, Cameron claimed they violated her constitutional rights when they illegally searched her house based on an invalid warrant, used excessive force, and arrested her without probable cause. She also claimed conspiracy between Buether and Craig.
A local federal judge, however, U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Battaglia dismissed the claims. But, Cameron appealed Battaglia’s ruling – and just recently, basically won the right to continue her suit.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals up in Pasadena just ruled on April 16th that parts of Cameron’s civil rights lawsuit should be allowed to go forward. Even though the appeals court affirmed one ruling by Battaglia that the warrant was valid, it reinstated the excessive force and conspiracy claims.
The court also stated that a jury should be allowed to determine if the show of force against Cameron was excessive for what the justices said was “relatively minor and nonviolent” offense.
The court ruled:
“Cameron’s suspected crimes were relatively minor and nonviolent, the county defendants had no reason to suspect Cameron or any of her known roommates would pose a threat to officer safety, and Cameron was not resisting arrest,”
“Nevertheless, Craig led six to ten sheriff’s deputies into Cameron’s residence with guns drawn early in the morning. Those deputies pointed weapons at Cameron, grabbed Cameron by the arms and shoulders, pushed her in the back down a hallway, and then tightly handcuffed her. On this view of the facts, a reasonable jury could find that the deputies used excessive force.”
On the conspiracy claim, the appeals court stated that the force used was “clearly intimidating,” concluding that Cameron is entitled to a trial to prove her claim that the “raid” and “SWAT-like” tactics were used to gain the upper hand for Buether at the couple’s custody mediation.
The appeals court took Det. Craig to task for a “significant lack of professional judgment” when she omitted key details in her application for a search warrant, which the court said it could be seen as evidence of a “purposeful attempt” to help Buether in his custody dispute.
It’s not over yet for Michelle Cameron, but a major hurtle is over. Now, on for the suit itself.